Always remember to practise safe sex
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through intimate physical contact, such as heavy petting and from sexual activity. STIs are very common. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 20 million new infections occur every year in the United States of America.
STIs can mostly be prevented by not having sex. If you do have sex, you can lower your risk by using condoms and being in a sexual relationship with a partner who does not have an STI. STIs do not always cause symptoms, so it is possible to have an infection and not know it. That is why it is important to get tested if you are having sex.
If you are diagnosed with an STI, know that all can be treated with medication and some can be cured entirely.
April is STI Awareness Month, an annual observance to raise awareness about the impact of sexually transmitted infections and the important role healthcare providers can play in supporting the sexual health of their patients.
STIs can affect people from all walks of life, but adolescents and young people are disproportionately impacted. Estimates suggest that even though youth make up only 25 per cent of the sexually active population, nearly half of all STI cases occur in people aged 15 to 24.
Xavier Biggs, monitoring and evaluation manager,at the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, said with sex being a prevalent feature of human society, it means that people at some point or other in their lives will interface with it.
“But a lot of people don’t know how to have sex safely and most times when people think about sex, they think about sex within the context of pregnancy. But along with sex also comes with other potential exposure to viruses, such as the different sexually transmitted infections,” Biggs said.
As of 2021, there is an estimated 32,000 people in Jamaica living with HIV. Of that number, an estimated 86 per cent or 27,000 people are aware of their status. Only 51 per cent are on treatment.
“We have been able to diagnose many people, but some of these people are not on treatment. So, we have the first set of people who don’t their status, then you have another set that know their status that are not on treatment, and then you have another set that are on treatment. So, depending on which scale of the spectrum, people can potentially expose others to the virus if they are not practising safer sex,” Biggs said.
The Jamaica AIDS Support for Life provides services that encourage people to know their status and get the relevant treatment that they need. As an organisation, they provide services right across the continuum of care. “At the very start of things, we are there talking about STI/HIV prevention, in schools, workplaces, communities, and anywhere that will listen. We are saying, get tested, and use a condom to protect yourself,” Biggs said.
The following common symptoms may occur in infected men and women, drip or unusual discharge from the sex organ, sores, bumps or blisters on or near the sex organs anus or mouth, burning pain when you urinate or have a bowel movement. A swelling or redness in your throat, and swelling in your groin, the area around your sex organs.
Additionally, women may have the following symptoms, pain in the area between your belly bottom and sex organs, burning or itching around your vagina, vaginal bleeding between periods, and or pain deep inside the vagina when you have sex.
“Your health is your responsibility, and the same way that you go to do an annual check- up or making sure you don’t have diabetes, or to manage your hypertension, or to do cancer screening you also want to know your STI/HIV status because that is an important part of being able to take care of yourself,” Biggs said.
If you think you have an STI, please visit a healthcare provider. Most health centres, clinics, private doctors and hospitals treat STIs. No matter where you get treated, your condition will be kept confidential. Remember to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully and do not share or take medication from another person.
TIPS TO PREVENT GETTING A SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTION:
The good news is that STIs are preventable. There are steps you can take to keep yourself and your partner healthy:
• Practise Abstinence: The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex.
• Have Fewer Partners: Reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk for STIs. It is still important that you and your partner get tested, and that you share your test results with one another.
• Mutual Monogamy: This means you agree to be sexually active with only one person, who has agreed to be sexually active with only you. Being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is one of the most reliable ways to avoid STDs. But you must both be certain you are not infected with STIs. It is important to have an open and honest conversation with your partner.
• Use Condoms: Correct and consistent use of the male latex condom is highly effective in reducing STI transmission. Use a condom every time you have sex. If you have latex allergies, synthetic non-latex condoms can be used. But it is important to note that these condoms have higher breakage rates than latex condoms. Natural membrane condoms are not recommended for STI prevention.
• Talk with Your Partner: Talk with your sex partner about STIs and staying safe before having sex. It might be uncomfortable to start the conversation, but protecting your health is your responsibility.
SOURCE: Ministry of Health and Wellness, Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.